TCR returns to Italy’s ‘Temple of Speed’
The fourth race meeting of the 2017 TCR International Series takes place on Monza’s super-fast Autodromo, which is known worldwide as the ‘Temple of Speed’ another legendary motorsport venue visited by the series, after Spa-Francorchamps where rounds 5 and 6 were run last week.
The International Series has already competed at Monza, in 2015, providing two very lively races in which groups of cars were running abreast into every corner.
Local hero Gianni Morbidelli scored a double victory at the wheel of a WestCoast Racing Honda Civic, but he had to fight hard to recover and beat his competitors.
In Race 1, Morbidelli had a poor start from pole and eventually emerged as the winner after a four-way fight with the SEAT cars of Pepe Oriola, Andrea Belicchi and Stefano Comini.
The second race was even more thrilling, as Fernando Monje took the lead in his Opel Astra. The Spaniard was chased by a group of six cars that included Morbidelli, Belicchi, Oriola, Comini, Jordi Gené and Kevin Gleason. Positions were swapped several times and contacts were made. Finally Morbidelli beat Gené and Monje to the line by mere inches, with the latter giving Opel its best result so far in the series.
Will Monza produce a seventh different race winner?
After the first three events of the season, Leopard Racing’s Jean-Karl Vernay has been able to build a cushion of points between himself and his rivals. The Frenchman has scored in all of the six races held so far, finishing on the podium three times, including his first victory of the year in the second race at Spa.
Vernay’s margin amounts to 25 points ahead of Stefano Comini, while Attila Tassi,Dušan Borković and Roberto Colciago rank from third to fifth with gaps of 38, 40 and 41 points respectively.
However, considering how level is the performance between the top cars and drivers, it’s a safe prediction that the title fight will be very hard-fought.
A look at the statistics explains everything. The six races held so far have produced six different winners at the wheel of five different models of cars: Alfa Romeo, SEAT, Honda, Audi and Volkswagen (in chronological order).
Only the Opel Astra has not won a race yet, but has already shown its potential with the 1-2 in Bahrain Qualifying and the victory claimed by Mat’o Homola in TCR Benelux a couple of weeks ago. In fact, Homola and his DG Sport Compétition teammate Pierre-Yves Corthals have frequently been handicapped by bad luck .
Along the straights of Monza, outright speed will be a factor, which could be an advantage for the Honda and the SEAT cars, while Comini and Vernay will have to cope with the extra weight of the Success Ballast.
With such a close field, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Monza produces a seventh different race winner, or even an eighth…
Colciago, Morbidelli and Alfa Romeo: the Italian Factor
The Autodromo is one of the favourite places for Italian motorsport fans, especially when they can cheer representatives of the national colours, either drivers or cars.
Roberto Colciago in the M1RA Honda Civic Type-R will be one of the men to watch. Monza is his – and JAS Motorsport’s – home racetrack and the reigning TCR Italy champion is eager to make up for a disappointing Belgian weekend, when the Success Ballast greatly affected the performance of his Civic on the steep slopes of Spa.
Gianni Morbidelli too has a special feeling with the Autodromo, where he won both races on the occasion of the TCR’s first visit in 2015. And on top of this, the former F1 racer is eager to make up for a disappointing start of the season that saw him struggling to set up the WestCoast Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI.
However, quite possibly the Tifosi’s strongest support will go to the Romeo Ferraris-built Alfa Romeo Giulietta cars driven by Davit Kajaia and Dusan Borković. Both the Georgian and the Serbian have already savoured the sweet taste of victory in the previous rounds, but success in Monza would have a very different meaning.
In fact, the last time an Alfa Romeo won a Touring Car race at the Autodromo dates back to 2006…too long a wait!
Success Ballast for Comini and Vernay
In the Monza event, Success Ballast will only be carried by Stefano Comini and Jean-Karl Vernay, the race winners of the previous event at Spa-Francorchamps.
Comini was the best scorer in Belgium, with pole position, victory in Race 1 and third in Race 2 that brought him 45 points, but also 30 kilos of Success Ballast. Vernay, the current points leader, scored 39 points in Spa and so will be given 20 extra kilos.
The 10-kilo Success Ballast for the third best scorer will not be allocated, as Benjamin Lessennes (who pocketed 31 points in his home race meeting) will not race at Monza.
As a result, Comini’s Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS will weigh 1360kg (1285kg minimum weight + 30kg Success Ballast + 45kg B alance of Performance adjustment), while the running weight of Vernay’s Leopard Racing WRT Volkswagen Golf GTI will be 1315kg (1285kg + 20kg SB + 10kg BoP).
Jaap van Lagen replaces Rob Huff at Monza
Jaap van Lagen will replace Rob Huff at the wheel of the Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI for this weekend’s race meeting at Monza.
Huff, who joined the team last week at Spa, is forced to skip Monza because of a previous commitment and will be back from the following event at the Salzburgring.
With Jean-Karl Vernay currently leading the TCR International Series standings, the team did not want to miss the opportunity of fielding its second car and picked van Lagen who is both experienced and fast enough to provide good support to the Frenchman.
“I’m very much looking forward to my first TCR event ever at Monza! Especially because I’m joining a top team and I will be driving a competitive car. For me it’s a good opportunity to come back to Touring Car racing after a few years with LADA Sport. I hope I will be able do a good job and score important points for the team!” van Lagen said.
Cappellari joins the TCR International Series in Monza
Daniele Cappellari, a regular competitor in TCR Italy, will join the International Series for the Italian event at Monza.
At a time when big articulated trucks line up behind the garages at each racetrack and hospitality suites fill the paddocks, Cappellari and his partner and team manager Fabiola bring their SEAT León on a trailer and sleep in a camper van like in the ‘good old days’, proving that the category is really affordable for independent teams and drivers.
And competing with a family-run team in this way does not affect results, as was proved by finishing in fifth position in last year’s TCR Italy.
Now, Daniele is looking forward to his first international appearance at Monza: “I feel very excited and I’m sure I will remember the Monza weekend for the rest of my life. I love Touring Car racing and when I was a boy I never missed a Super Touring race on TV, but I couldn’t even dream of taking part in an International event at Monza! Whatever will be, I will be happy. But I also hope to show off and find some support for the future. It will be a dream come true and I dare to hope that it will not be a one-off…”
Gabriele Tarquini, a spectator with an interest…
Touring Car legend Gabriele Tarquini was a very attentive spectator in the Monza paddock over these two days, and had many hands to shake…
“It’s nice to see so many friends, but I am not here only to socialize, I have come to see the future rivals…” admitted the Italian with a big smile.
“Il ‘Cinghio’ came to Monza from Misano, where he completed another test with Hyundai’s future TCR racer, the New Generation i30.
“The development and testing phase are going on smoothly and positively,” explained the former World Champion and official test driver of the Korean brand.
“I can say it is a well-born car. Things are definitely being done in the proper way. It is still premature to say anything about a race debut, but the time will come for sure!”
Qualifying – Frédéric Vervisch took his maiden pole
In a very close Qualifying, Frédéric Vervisch took his maiden pole position in the TCR International Series. The Belgian was impressive throughout the whole session, in his only second Touring Car appearance.
It was also the second consecutive pole for Audi and Comtoyou Racing, after the one claimed by Stefano Comini at Spa. Six brands were represented in the top 7, all covered by seven tenths, proving the competitiveness of the field.
The M1RA Honda Civic cars of Roberto Colciago and Attila Tassi dominated most of the two parts of the session, but were eventually beaten by the Audi.
Davit Kajaia was an excellent fourth-fastest with the GE Force Alfa Romeo Giulietta, preceding the DG Sport Compétition Opel Astra of Mat’o Homola, the best of the Lukoil Craft-Bamboo SEAT León cars of Pepe Oriola and the best of the Volkswagen Golf GTI cars, the Leopard Racing Team WRT machine of Jean-Karl Vernay.
Stefano Comini was only 8th, after a difficult session, ahead of James Nash and Hugo Valente. The two Lukoil Craft-Bamboo drivers will fill the front row of the top-ten reverse grid for Race 2.
Qualifying 1: Colciago was fastest at home
The session started under the sun and with perfect conditions. It was immediately a slipstreaming exercise, with the three Lukoil Craft-Bamboo SEAT cars of Oriola (2:01.078), Valente and Nash, leading in that order.
Shortly afterwards, it was the DG Sport Compétition Opel Astra cars taking the advantage with Corthals (2:00.946), but Oriola retook the lead (2:00.153) before being beaten by the Honda Civic cars of Tassi (2:00.063) and Colciago (2:00.090).
With six minutes to go, Vervisch put his Audi on top (2:00.021). Shortly afterwards, the Hungarian young boys made a hit, with Tassi back on top (1:59.610) ahead of Ferenc Ficza (1:59.895) in the Zele Motorsport SEAT León.
In the dying moments of the session, though, Colciago pipped everybody with a lap of 1:59.601. The Italian beat Tassi, Ficza, Vervisch, Oriola, Vernay, Homola, Kajaia, Valente and Nash. The last two promoted to Q2 were Comini and Jaap van Lagen.
Those who did not make the cut were the two WestCoast VW Golf cars of Morbidelli and Altoè, the GE Force Alfa Romeo of Borković, Corthals, Paulsen, Cappellari and Møller.
Qualifying 2: Vervisch beat the Honda boys
As Valente went straight at the Roggia on the first fast lap, Colciago confirmed immediately his leadership (1:59.859), ahead of Homola, Comini and van Lagen. In the second fastest lap, Colciago improved (1:59.246) and Tassi moved up to second (1:59.361), with Kajaia third.
It was then Tassi who took the provisional pole on his last lap (1:59.131) before being beaten by Colciago (1:59.097). Eventually it was Vervisch (1:58.997) who went faster than the two Honda cars. Kajaia (1:59:469) was an excellent fourth, flowed by Homola, Oriola, Vernay, Comini, Nash and Valente who took pole for Race 2.
What the fastest drivers said after Qualifying
Frédéric Vervisch (1st): “Before the weekend, everybody knew that the Audi had good top speed but you still have to do it, the speed has to be there and Monza is not an easy track. I’m really, really pleased that Audi and the team gave us such a good car and I hope we can have a bit more pace than we had at Spa in the race. We discussed slipstreaming and we tried it yesterday, but it didn’t really work and so we decided not to do it.”
Roberto Colciago (2nd): “Until this morning, I didn’t know if I could even go in the car; I’m surprised I could drive, let alone be P2! I think I have a problem with the discs in my back, which I damaged yesterday going across the kerbs. It started at Spa but I had a massage during the week, which helped. After FP2 yesterday I was really bad and I didn’t sleep much, so I don’t know what will happen in the race.”
Attila Tassi (3rd): “It feels good. We worked a lot during Free Practice yesterday to set up a good car for Qualifying and for the races. Of course, I have a really experienced teammate who is at his home track so that is a big plus for me because he has taught me lots of small things about Monza. In the race, I will try to do the same kind of start I did at Spa and then defend hard.”
Colciago and Tassi make it a 1-2 finish for Honda as Vernay maintains his lead in the standings
Roberto Colciago was the first driver to take a second win in this year’s TCR International Series. The Italian, who lives a few kilometres from the Autodromo, completed a brilliant performance in a very lively Race 1 at Monza to beat his young teammate Attila Tassi and giving M1RA and the Honda Civic an impressive 1-2 finish.
Pepe Oriola, with the Lukoil Craft-Bamboo SEAT León, finished third ahead of Jean-Karl Vernay (Leopard Racing Team WRT Volkswagen Golf GTI) who had a relatively quiet race and scored useful points that helped him to maintain the championship lead with a 24-point margin ahead of Colciago. Ferenc Ficza (Zele Motorsport SEAT León) was classified fifth, beating pole sitter Frédéric Vervisch (Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS) by inches.
Once again, Monza provided the ingredients for a spectacular race, with plenty of duels and contacts that jeopardized the hopes of potential contenders such as Valente, Homola, Comini and Borković. They were all able to salvage some points at least, something that Nash, Morbidelli, van Lagen and Kajaia could not.
Start: Vervisch starts well from pole, but Colciago and Tassi pass him before the first chicane
Lap 1: Homola and Oriola make contact at the first chicane, also involving Comini and Morbidelli. Homola spins and rejoins whilst Altoè goes out in the gravel at the Curvone following a contact with Valente. Colciago leads from Tassi, Vervisch and Kajaia
Lap 2: Kajaia touches Vervisch at the first chicane as Vernay goes straight on
Lap 3: Colciago is being chased by Tassi, Oriola, Vernay, Nash, van Lagen, Ficza and Valente whilst Vervisch has dropped to 10th ahead of Homola. There is contact between Valente and Ficza at the Parabolica
Lap 4: Ficza and Nash go straight on at the chicane as Vervisch makes contact with Valente and cuts the Roggia chicane, gaining two positions
Lap 5: There is a battle for 6th between Vervisch, Valente, Nash, Borković, Homola, and Morbidelli, with plenty of contact involved.
Lap 6: At the first chicane, Borković hits Morbidelli then Comini overtakes them both for 9th as Homola passes Vervisch and Nash for 6th.
Lap 8: Vervisch, Valente, Borković and Morbidelli keep fighting as Colciago has a four-tenths lead over Tassi who is trailed by Oriola, Vernay and Ficza
Lap 9: Tassi and Oriola get closer to Colciago, but the Hungarian goes wide at Lesmo 2 handing the second place to Oriola as Corthals and Kajaia retire in the pits
Lap 10: Tassi attacks Oriola and re-takes the second place at the Roggia however there is contact and a fender of Oriola’s SEAT rubs against a rear tyre as Vernay closes the gap from the Spaniard
Lap 11: Colciago wins ahead of Tassi, Oriola, Vernay, Ficza, Vervisch, Valente, Homola, Comini and Borković
Fizca drops to tenth after penalty
The many investigations that followed the first race ended up in only one driver being penalised: Feren Ficza.
The young Hungarian was given a 10-second time penalty for gaining an unfair advantage. In fact Ficza’s Zele Racing SEAT León cut through the first chicane during the fourth lap of today’s Race 1 and moved up a couple of places in the process.
Ficza eventually finished in fifth position, but the penalty dropped him down to tenth.
Quotes from the Race 1 podium finishers
Roberto Colciago (1st): “This morning, I didn’t know if I could race because my back was aching so badly, but luckily I had no pain once I was in the car. I couldn’t get away from the others because the tow is so important here in Monza and so I just concentrated on not making any mistakes. Attila pressured me from the start, so it’s good for the team that he has the same pace as me. When I was in Spa, it looked like I was racing with the ambulance because of the Success Ballast, so I’m really happy to win at my home track.”
Attila Tassi (2nd): “It’s a great result for the team and for me as well. The start was just how I imagined it and I ended up behind Roberto. I was then a bit less aggressive and so the others could catch up with us. I made a mistake two laps from the end and Pepe overtook me, but then at the end he damaged his rear bodywork in the chicane so I overtook him on the straight and then defended the position. Roberto has been racing here in Monza for thirty years – nearly twice as long as I am old – and so he knows every little thing about the place which is really useful for me.”
Pepe Oriola (3rd): “I had a really good start and I came into the first chicane side by side with two or three cars; I got a push and hit Homola, he spun and I’m really sorry, it wasn’t my intention. When I was up to third, I was trying to catch the Honda cars but it was really tough to follow them. Then I waited for a mistake and it arrived, but then Attila and I then had a little touch. I think SEAT has to work on the rear fenders of the car; it was only a little contact but this doesn’t have to happen. It was impossible to stop Attila, in the last 250 metres of the straights the top speed of the Hondas is amazing.”
Comini wins after a close but fair fight with Colciago as Only eighteen points cover the top three in the standings
Stefano Comini won his second race of the year in a breathtaking Race 2 at Monza. The reigning double champion of TCR International clinched the win in his Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS at the end of a thrilling battle. Comini made a great start, managing to take the lead on the first lap, but could never build a substantial gap. In the final part of the race he had to defend himself from the attacks of Roberto Colciago.
The winner of Race 1, at the wheel of the M1RA Honda Civic, made a stunning charge through the field, climbing from ninth on the grid up to P2. He even managed to pass Comini on the penultimate lap, but the Swiss responded immediately afterwards and then was able to defend P1 until the chequered flag. With the first 11 cars finishing within 4 seconds, it was a typical, exciting and close Touring Car race at Monza, with plenty of action and duels. Frédéric Vervisch took third with the second Audi RS3 LMS, completing the excellent day for Comtoyou Racing, preceding the Lukoil Craft-Bamboo SEAT León of James Nash and the Leopard Racing Team WRT Volkswagen Golf GTI of Jean-Karl Vernay.
The Frenchman still leads the standings with 113 points, but Colciago and Comini are now only 16 and 18 points behind respectively. The title fight is just starting to heat up!
Grid: The engine on Van Lagen’s car was changed after Race 1, which demoted the Dutchman to the back of the grid
Start: Comini makes an excellent start from row 2, overtaking Valente, who comes off the worst in a first chicane incident with Vernay and Oriola as Tassi is also pushed into a spin and collects Borkovic, who retires
Lap 1: Comini leads from Nash, Vernay, Oriola, Homola, Colciago and Vervisch
Lap 2: Homola and Oriola fight for fourth
Lap 3: Vervisch and Colciago move up to fifth and sixth overtaking Homola; Colciago overtakes Vervisch for fifth
Lap 4: Colciago passes Oriola for fourth
Lap 5: Vervisch passes Oriola for fifth
Lap 6: Colciago passes Vernay for third at Lesmo 1 as Comini manages to build a small margin
Lap 7: Vervisch and Vernay are fighting for fourth; the Belgian passes at La Roggia, while Homola passes Oriola for sixth at the same spot; Colciago takes second from Nash; Kajaia takes seventh from Oriola
Lap 8: Tassi passes van Lagen for 11th as there is a contact at the braking point of the first chicane, Morbidelli spins and Altoè cuts straight. Paulsen pits with a steering wheel issue
Lap 9: Colciago completely cuts Comini’s advantage and sticks to the Audi’s rear bumper
Lap 10: The first seven cars are covered by 1.5 seconds; Colciago takes the lead by passing Comini from the outside at the first chicane, with Vervisch doing the same with Nash for third; at the braking for La Roggia, Comini retakes the lead
Lap 11: Vernay cuts the first chicane but retakes his previous position; Colciago makes a last attempt at the braking point before the Parabolica, but Comini keeps the inside line and wins by 0.170 second. Third is Vervisch, ahead of Nash, Vernay, Homola, Kajaia, Oriola, Tassi and Ficza, with Van Lagen 11th…all those within 4 seconds!
Colciago gets grid penalty for the next race
Roberto Colciago will be dropped five places on the starting grid for the first race at the Salzburgring.
The Stewards deemed that the Italian driver caused an incident on lap four of today’s Race 2 at Monza. In the collision Frédéric Vervisch was pushed into the back of Mat’o Homola’s car and then straight-cut the Ascari chicane.
No further action were taken after the other investigation on the first lap incident at the first chicane that involved Jean-Karl Vernay, Pepe Oriola and Vervisch.
Quotes from Race 2 podium finishers
Stefano Comini (1st): “Yesterday was really a bad day for me; Valente hit me and accelerated to make me spin, but today was great. It was a funny first lap but I knew with the Success Ballast I had to get into the lead as soon as possible. It was difficult to keep the position, but it was fun. The solution to the brake problem was to get into the lead, so more cool air goes into the brakes. Yesterday was really dangerous, and in the last three laps today I had to use all my strength to brake because the car wasn’t slowing down.”
Roberto Colciago (2nd): “I was impressed with Stefano today because he was really fast; I was in the slipstream but I couldn’t stay with him. My Honda was perfect in every single corner and this was the maximum I could do today. I don’t even want to think about Spa, which is the worst circuit to have ballast, and it’s why I was so impressed by Stefano today. He doesn’t live very far from me, so both of us wanted to win in Monza this weekend – it’s very special to win here. I tried my best to overtake him but it was impossible.”
Frédéric Vervisch (3rd): “Congratulations to Stefano, who did an amazing job, and I think the job from the whole team was really great. We’ve had the pace from the beginning and it was disappointing in Spa that I didn’t have the pace in the race. Yesterday was a bit ‘stock car’ but I’m very happy today and the next step is to go for victory. Apart from the result, all the races have been great fun; the category is like karting! I still have to get used to it but the Audi is a great car and so I hope the next time I will be where my mate is.”
The series will resume in Austria, at the Salzburgring, on June 10 / 11 for rounds 9 and 10.
After watching the fun and frolics from Monza, the main subject that was the talk of the event was driving standards during the weekend.
There were two important points on this subject.
Many fans were upset over the contact that saw Mato Homola lose several places as others cut the first chicane and that he did not gain those places back. A protest was lodged by both Homola and DG Sport Competition after the second race.
The other talking point related to the poor driving standards was the release sent out by WestCoat Racing, whose drivers Gianni Morbidelli and Giacomo Altoe both saw their races ruined by contact.
Team Manager James Nixon was quite clear on his thoughts from the weekend’s activities…
“It appears the International series has some of the worst driving standards currently in any series I watch.”
“Sadly, most of these incidents seem to go un-noticed by the people that count! We were passed yet again more times off the track than on, but no positions given back. Maybe it’s better to have no rules but it’s not the kind of motorsport we want for the team. As a team we need to look at our options and decide if we continue to support this philosophy of racing.”
Whilst WestCoast Racing have had a difficult year so far as they adapt to the VW Golf TCR, it fair to say that the loss of this team from The TCR International Series would be a big blow. I expect that there will be some stern words said at the Salzburgring next month about driving standards…
As per usual, I will be keeping things up to date on here with the blog as well as the members of the TCR Talk Facebook Group who will also be sharing their thoughts as well as any news from the series.
Until next time, all the best!